The first playable alpha version of At the Gates is now available! For those of you who generously contributed $80 or more, a download link for the alpha version of AtG should be on your Humble Dashboard along with a complimentary Steam key.
If you haven’t used the Humble Dashboard before, just head over here to Humble’s Key Resender and enter the email address you have associated with your Kickstarter (or PayPal) account. This Dashboard is where new versions of the game will also be posted, so keep the address handy.
Didn’t pledge at the $80 tier, but all this talk of steamy, hot, barbaric, ‘frozen-and-crossable-rivers-in-the-winter’ strategic action just too much to resist? Well, no problem! You can still join in on the fun by pre-ordering the At the Gates Early Access Bundle.
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Posted by Jon Shafer on October 8, 2013
Episode #47 is live!
Our hosts discuss Dirk’s recent experience playtesting ‘At the Gates’, dive deep into what makes ‘Agricola’ great, and lament the loneliness of the skill curve in ‘Go’. They also touch upon the simple-but-effective worldbuilding in ‘The Last of Us’, and the enjoyable gameplay but still-questionable monetization of ‘World of Tanks’.
Dirk and I met up last weekend and covered a lot of ground. I gave him a demo of Spelunky on the Vita, we did a 2-hour playtest of At the Gates which went really well (some minor UI quirks aside), and then spent the rest of the day with Agricola.
Playtests are always a little scary because you never know what someone is going to think, and usually a player’s first experience with a game is the toughest, especially in the strategy genre. Even so, Dirk really enjoyed the unique aspects AtG brings to the table, and that was highly encouraging. We still have a long way to go, but it’s clear we’re on the right track.
Playing Agricola was also quite a bit of fun, and I’m now convinced that you have to play a tabletop game at least twice when first learning, as your first game is inevitably going to be filled with a few parts confusion and a few more revelation. If you then move onto something else immediately you never get a chance to apply that new mastery, and should you return to it sometime later you’ll likely be right back near the starting line again. Of course, this is probably a topic we’ll dedicate an episode to very soon, so I won’t dig into it too much now!
Posted by Jon Shafer on September 30, 2013
Episode #46 is live!
Jon, Dirk and David finally get around to talking about theme, mechanics and how the intersection of the two relates to ‘fun’. What are each? What happens when you favor one over the other? Can you flat out OMIT one? And what are some examples in the games our panelists have actually worked?
An eternal struggle in the field of game design is the role of theme (sci-fi, fall of the Roman Empire, Lord of the Rings) and mechanics (worker placement, turn-based, equipment slots).
In my mind your goal isn’t so much to balance the two, but to incorporate the best of both. My rule of thumb is that theme should serve as the ultimate guide for what does or does not belong in a game, but theme always needs to take a back seat to good mechanics. Everyone has their own unique approach though, and it was great seeing Dirk and David’s perspective on this.
Posted by Jon Shafer on September 23, 2013
Episode #45 is live!
Jon and Dirk are joined by Ed Beach, designer of the digital titles ‘Civilization 5: Gods & Kings’ and ‘Brave New World’ as well as tabletop games ‘Here I Stand’ and ‘Virgin Queen’. As you might have guessed, their discussion focuses on the similarities and differences between the two disciplines of design, and what lessons learned in one can be applied to the other.
We hadn’t yet had a guest on who has worked extensively on both digital titles as well as tabletop ones, so it was great hearing Ed’s perspective on the two and how his style in one field has bled into the other. He’s a history guy through-and-through, and you can definitely see the design parallels between his board games and the scenarios he’s worked on (the ‘Into the Renaissance’ scenario in Civ 5: Gods & Kings being one good example).
Posted by Jon Shafer on September 17, 2013
Episode #44 is live!
Jon and Dirk discuss Solium Infernum and City of Remnants in-depth, and along the way delve into the issues deep competitive games have and the reasons why endgames are typically so bad. Dirk then provides an update on his forty projects, and Jon talks about the challenges of design and engineering and the thinking that goes behind when to start playtesting.
In this episode Dirk grilled me on why I I’ve fallen so deeply for Out of the Park but have had trouble getting into Solium Infernum, despite both having a massive learning curve. This led to an interesting conversation about direct VS indirect competition. Making a mistake in either game is brutal – but in Solium Infernum it’s someone shoving your face in that brutality. Not only are you weakened, but your opponents grow stronger. The thrill of victory can be greater when it’s a zero sum proposition, but there’s an interesting trade-off that comes with that.
Posted by Jon Shafer on September 11, 2013
Hey all, just a short update on recent goings-on, plus a special a peek behind the curtain regarding how developers decide when to pull back said curtain. I know many of you are very eager to get your hands on the game, and we’ll be kicking the alpha off in a few weeks. So what have we been up to, and why the wait?
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Posted by Jon Shafer on September 4, 2013
Episode #42 is live!
Jon and Dirk are joined by David Dunham, the creator of the classic PC and new iOS game ‘King of Dragon Pass’. The panel discusses the game’s unique focus on player-driven narrative, reviving an old-school title on new platforms, and the challenges of indie development. And Jon gets excited, simply because he finally found another game that takes barbarians seriously!
King of Dragon Pass is a very different game from the ones we usually talk about on the show, and this one is worth a listen if only for that reason. It’s interesting to see how a game with strategy elements can lean more heavily on narrative and still strike a chord with players. KoDP’s aesthetic and unique setting certainly help quite a bit. Hopefully the second rise of the indies results in more titles of this sort in the future.
Posted by Jon Shafer on August 26, 2013
Episode #41 is live!
Jon and Dirk cover a wide variety of topics this week, notably: the problems with automation and user interface in Paradox titles like Hearts of Iron 3 and Europa Universalis 4, the psychological appeal and the (possibly too-important) role of money in poker, and the challenges of meshing tech and design in At the Gates’ AI.
Dirk and I were all over the board this week – in a good way. A lot of interesting discussion for you guys.
We’ve covered Paradox’s games in the past, but there’s always more good meat on that bone. They’ve built a large and passionate audience by melding hardcore strategy and sim, but there’s tension between those two extremes.
A good strategy game requires clarity and tough decisions, while a good sim is almost entirely about feel. Paradox has done a good job balancing the two, but their user interface has always been where things break down a bit.
We also talked at length about poker. It’s extremely simple, but that simplicity focuses attention on what is there, and results in a very psychologically interesting platform. I cover this at length in the episode, but my big complaint is that this is almost entirely driven by real-money wagering. Playing with nothing on the line is a completely different experience, and not for the better.
Posted by Jon Shafer on August 19, 2013
Episode #40 is live!
Jon, Dirk and David delve into the topic of multiplayer design: How is it different from single player design? What are the strengths and weaknesses different types of multiplayer? What separates e-sports from traditional multiplayer games? And what approach can be taken towards cheating?
Multiplayer is an issue that has many layers. Some people play only multiplayer. Others really enjoy it, but only with games they’re already invested in. The most profitable games tend to be multiplayer-centric, so those holding the purse strings always want to have it.
But the reality is that multiplayer and single-player are two completely different games. And as is true of all two-games-in-one situations, you’re almost always better off focusing on one or the other (unless, of course, you have unlimited time/money). If you do decide to invest heavily in both, it’s important to realize that you are making two games and the design for each needs to reflect that.
Posted by Jon Shafer on August 15, 2013
Episode #38 is live!
Jon and Dirk discuss several games at length this week, namely: Monaco, the new Walking Dead chapter, Super Crate Box for the Ouya and Civ 5: Brave New World. Topics covered include how penalties can improve a game, the importance of polish, and why diplomacy in 4X games always seems to be bad.
This was a long one and we really went into a lot of detail on interesting design topics relating to the games we’ve been playing. The big takeaway from #38 is “polish your games, because if you don’t players will notice – and it will undermine everything you actually did well.”
It’s easy for developers to overlook what they believe to be small flaws, but players have a very different perspective. While the best games aren’t perfect, by either luck or intention their problems tend to be peripheral to the core experience. Unless you’re just naturally charmed, the only way to reach that point is through extensive playtesting.
Posted by Jon Shafer on July 30, 2013